Sebastian Vettel is the new world champion, the youngest ever in history, but for most of a gripping Abu Dhabi Grand Prix he did not have a clue destiny was calling.
"To be honest I didn't know anything until I crossed the finish line," the 23-year-old German admitted, after leading in every lap apart from a mid-race stint when he had changed tyres and before Jenson Button did likewise. "My engineer kept trying to help me bring the car home, and I kept thinking, 'Why is this guy so nervous, I must be in good position'
"I hadn't seen any of the big TV screens, because I didn't want any distractions – then he comes on the radio and screams at me that we'd just won the world championship. Since I was a kid watching the television, wondering who would win ... we have a guy in our team who can tell you every world champion from 1950, and to think I'm on that list now, with people like Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher. It's fantastic. I'm speechless."
After taking his 10th pole position of the season, Vettel controlled the race, taking a tight lead at the start from Lewis Hamilton, as Button in the other McLaren outdragged Fernando Alonso, the championship leader going into the race, for third place and Mark Webber slotted into fifth behind the Ferrari.
With Vettel leading, the expected prolonged joust for the title was rather overtaken by a crash involving Schumacher and Tonio Luzzi and Ferrari's decision to come in early for a pit stop that left Alonso trapped behind the Renault of Vitaly Petrov. The Spaniard had one moment when he almost got the job done, but he rubbed his wheel against one of Petrov's rear tyres and slid wide.
On this crucial day, too, Webber, in the other Red Bull, did not have the pace he had shown so often this year, and was unable to take advantage. It was impossible not to feel for both Webber and Alonso. Yet while a frustrated Alonso gestured at Petrov after the race, the Australian, predictably, refused to complain about his pitstop timing.
"I fully congratulate Seb," he said. "There were a lot of positives this year. This weekend didn't turn out and it's a shame. There's good time to reflect in the next few weeks and look at the highs and the lows, but that's the way sport is sometimes ... you come so close to the top and you just miss out. I tried my absolute hardest, in the end it wasn't enough. But two championships for the team is not a bad year for us."
Post-race debates went back to the opening lap when Schumacher spun and was mounted by an unsighted Liuzzi. The German was very lucky as the two cars met face-to-face – the Force India climbed up by the Mercedes' cockpit – and as the safety car came out while the debris was cleared away Mercedes crucially brought in Nico Rosberg to switch to the harder compound Bridgestone tyres and Renault did likewise with Petrov. Both stops would later play key roles.
When the racing resumed, Vettel opened up a lead over Hamilton and Button. Webber pitted for the harder tyres as early as the 11th lap, with Alonso following suit four laps later. But as they fell into the midfield behind Petrov, Hamilton did not stop until the 23rd lap, Vettel the 24th. That put Button into the lead, but as Vettel resumed behind him, Hamilton was crucially trapped behind the in-form Robert Kubica who was on a long opening stint for Renault on harder tyres.
Lap after lap, Webber, Alonso and Petrov ran around nose to tail, chasing after Kamui Kobayashi, Kubica, Adrian Sutil, Sebastien Buemi, Rosberg and Nico Hulkenberg who separated them from Vettel and the McLarens. Eventually Kobayashi, Sutil, Buemi and Hulkenberg all fell way back when they finally changed tyres, but Button only went back to fourth when he finally pitted on the 39th lap, and that became third when Kubica eventually did likewise on the 46th in the race's most crucial stop.
Since neither Rosberg nor Petrov needed to stop again, it was all too clear that Alonso's hopes were doomed even if he managed to pass Petrov, because he needed fourth overall if he was to avoid losing out to Vettel on fourth-place countbacks if he finished fifth.
On the slowdown lap the Spaniard's emotions got the better of him, as he exchanged unsporting hand signals with Petrov, who had driven the race of his life. It was not an edifying sight.
"The team did everything for the right reasons because we needed to try and jump Seb," Hamilton said of the timing of his tyre stop, "but unfortunately we came back out behind a Renault." The underrated Kubica is one of F1's toughest customers, and even Hamilton was unable to pass until the Pole finally pitted. The English driver added: "This was a great end of season for us, me and Jenson, so thanks for everyone at the factory for not giving up."
Button, too, was happy, as the three latest world champions filled the podium places. "I tried to get out in front of Robert, who ran so long on the harder tyre, but as the stint went on I got more and more degradation on my softer rubber, so that wasn't possible and I had to wait for him to pit. But this is a great result for us, and something that we can really build on."
1 S Vettel Red Bull 256pts
2 F Alonso Ferrari 252
3 M Webber Red Bull 242
4 L Hamilton McLaren 240
5 J Button McLaren 214
6 F Massa Ferrari 144
7 N Rosberg Mercedes 142
8 R Kubica Renault 136
9 M Schumacher Mercedes 72
10 R Barrichello Williams 47
11 A Sutil 47; 12 K Kobayashi 32; 13 V Petrov 27; 14 N Hulkenberg 22; 15 V Liuzzi 21; 16 S Buemi 8; 17 P de la Rosa 6; 18 N Heidfeld 6; 19 J Alguersuari 5; 20 H Kovalainen 0; 21 J Trulli 0; 22 B Senna 0; 23 L di Grassi 0; 24 K Chandhok 0; 25 T Glock 0; 26 S Yamamoto 0; 27 C Klien 0.
Manufacturers: 1 Red Bull 498pts; 2 McLaren 454; 3 Ferrari 396; 4 Mercedes GP 214; 5 Renault 163; 6 Williams 69; 7 Force India 68; 8 BMW Sauber 44; 9 Toro Rosso 13; 10 Lotus 0; 11 Virgin 0; 12 HRT-F1 0.
Yas Marina details
FIA Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, UAE Final positions (55 Laps):
1 S Vettel (Ger) Red Bull 1hr 39min 36.837sec
2 L Hamilton (GB) McLaren 1:39:46.999
3 J Button (GB) McLaren 1:39:47.884
4 N Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes GP 1:40:07.584
5 R Kubica (Pol) Renault 1:40:15.863
6 V Petrov (Rus) Renault 1:40:20.357
7 F Alonso (Sp) Ferrari 1:40:20.634
8 M Webber (Aus) Red Bull 1:40:21.080
9 J Alguersuari (Sp) Toro Rosso 1:40:27.038
10 F Massa (Br) Ferrari 1:40:27.70511 N Heidfeld (Ger) BMW Sauber 1:40:28.388; 12 R Barrichello (Br) Williams 1:40:34.523; 13 A Sutil (Ger) Force India 1:40:35.162; 14 K Kobayashi (Jap) BMW Sauber 1:40:36.395; 15 S Buemi (Swit) Toro Rosso 1:40:40.015; 16 N Hulkenberg (Ger) Williams 1:40:41.600; 17 H Kovalainen (Fin) Lotus F1 at 1 lap; 18 L di Grassi (Br) Virgin Racing at 2 laps; 19 B Senna (Br) and 20 C Klien (Aut) both HRT-F1 at 2 laps; 21 J Trulli (It) Lotus F1 at 4 laps. Not Classified: 22 T Glock (Ger) Virgin (43 laps),23 M Schumacher (Ger) Mercedes GP 0 laps; 24 V Liuzzi (It) Force India 0 laps.Reuse content